The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) expresses its condemnation and serious concern over the killing of three members of the legal profession in just a period of two weeks from 19 February to 4 March 2014, as it relays its heartfelt condolences to the families of Atty. Noel Archival of Cebu City, Judge Reynerio Estacio of Zamboanga City, and retired prosecutor Issan Sawadjaan also of Zamboanga City.
All three brethren died violently, a raging manifestation of the impunity in the killings also of judges and lawyers and a shameless indication of the failure of the State to prevent or eradicate the continuing climate of impunity despite official disavowals to the contrary.
Atty. Noel Archival together with his staff were killed reportedly in an ambush on 19 February 2014 while returning to Cebu City from a robbery case hearing he attended in Dumaguete City. They suffered multiple gunshot wounds and the car carrying them had 31 bullet holes. Atty. Archival’s family and colleagues believe that the ruthless killing was perpetrated on account of his profession as a practicing lawyer.
Then on 28 February, Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court Judge Reynerio Estacio Sr. was attacked and killed reportedly by motorcycle-riding gunmen at Barangay (village) Tugbungan, Zamboanga City while inside his car and was about to leave for work. Judge Estacio sustained four gunshot wounds and died in the hospital. His car bore seven bullet holes.
Only two days ago, yet another member of the profession, retired prosecutor Issan Sawadjaan and his brother were gunned down reportedly by unidentified assailants while laying their sister to rest at a local cemetery in Indanan, Sulu.
All three cold-blooded murders were brazen, and perpetrated with the use of guns in broad daylight, and most likely carried out in connection with the exercise of their profession. The killings and the manner in which they were executed not only sends a chilling effect to the members of the bar and of the bench, it also yet again reveals the inability of the government to suppress lawlessness and to protect judges and lawyers.
The killings must really end. Impunity must be met with strong resolve to hold those responsible accountable. Towards this end and in order to send a clear and determined message to the perpetrators and their masterminds, all pending cases of killings of lawyers and judges must be thoroughly investigated and tenaciously prosecuted with dispatch and those accountable be held to account.
We shall cooperate with the Supreme Court, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Peers Committee as well as the Lawyers for Lawyers, Judges for Judges and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), among others, in exploring more effective ways to confront these attacks. Since the time of the Counsels for the Defense of Lawyers (CODAL) in 2005 up to the formation of the NUPL in 2007, the running list of attacks on lawyers and judges remains a source of renewed concern.
We ourselves who are exposed to daily conflicts especially between the high and mighty and the poor and oppressed have periodically been the target of vicious attacks in many forms. The combined recipe of malicious labelling, illegal arrests, nuisance charges, menacing threats, and systematic surveillance by elements who do not believe in the force of reason and in peaceful yet passionate advocacy for fundamental changes especially for the underdog is “all in a day’s work.” Yet it is no comfort that we have been gratuitously called “an enemy of the state” by a sore Army general in reaction to our valid criticism. We remain undaunted.
But with measured anxiety nonetheless, we dread that these recent attacks are ominous of things to come – and come in full circle if we allow it again – of a spike in extrajudicial killings not only of lawyers and judges but even of more civilians on top of the 169 killed so far under the present dispensation and of hundreds in the previous regime, with practically nobody but nobody really made to account.
Our fallen colleagues must be given justice and justice must be swift so that those who rely on the profession in the pursuit of justice will not lose faith.
At the end of the day, the buck stops with the government as it is expressly duty-bound by international covenants to protect also the members of the legal profession. If officers of the court and supposed pillars of the justice system who are symbols of the so-called majesty of justice and the rule of law are gunned down like headless chickens in broad daylight, then who is safe out there?
Atty. Edre U. Olalia
Atty. Alnie Foja
Asst. Secretary General for Protection & Welfare of Lawyers
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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